The 2014 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center features the usual suspects in pursuit of a title at the season's final Grand Slam.
A tournament that dates back to 1881, the 134th edition features a bevy of superstars who are at key points in their career, as the landscape of the sport overall continues to evolve toward better parity than ever before.
The top seeds are predictable, yes, but this season has mostly been anything but kind to players who hold such ranks. On such a grand stage, anything is possible on the hard court as things unfold into early September.
Let's take a look at the draw, top seeds and a few names who come equipped with interesting storylines.
Players to Watch
It has been quite the ride for Novak Djokovic as of late. His ability to re-obtain the No. 1 ranking after a Wimbledon triumph has been offset with a loss at the Rogers Cup and—more importantly—a loss to No. 16 seed Tommy Robredo in the third round of the Western & Southern Open.
Things might just continue on that downward trajectory after the draw for the festivities in New York, too.
Djokovic is the rightful No. 1 thanks to his 39-6 record to this point, although it helps that Rafael Nadal will not be at the tournament due to injury.
But the path is anything but easy. A date with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga—the man who took down Djokovic at the Rogers Cup—is a possibility in the quarterfinals, as is a match against Andy Murray, who won it all in 2012.
That path is difficult, but Djokovic has made an appearance in the final at this tournament in each of the past four tournaments. Fans can only hope that he makes it through to the final to meet Roger Federer, which would create a superb rematch of the five-set Wimbledon final this year.
In order to see that come to fruition, Djokovic must reach peak form in a hurry.
As a French Open finalist and Wimbledon semifinalist this year, there is an increasing amount of pressure on the shoulders of Simona Halep to make something happen, especially with major names such as world No. 3 Li Na not in the running in New York.
While Halep has achieved a career-best ranking this month, it turns out to be a bad time for her to play in the U.S. Open—she has never advanced past the fourth round.
There is no question Halep has the natural talent to win it all in New York, and that includes taking down No. 1 seed Serena Williams—who enters the proceedings with a full head of steam after winning the Western & Southern Open.
But momentum is another issue that may combine with history itself to form a rather volatile mixture. Halep was the No. 1 seed and defending champion at the Connecticut Open recently and was bounced in the second round by the unseeded Magdalena Rybarikova.
Despite the upset, it sounds as if she is ready to use it as a learning experience, as captured by The Associated Press, via USA Today:
"I played three sets and almost two hours, so I think it was a good match," Halep said. "I have enough positive things to take from this match."
Halep's quick rise up the ranks is admirable, but it is reduced in a way if she cannot finally get over the hump and finish a tournament on top. The final major event of the year is a great way to do so, but history—both recent and far-reaching—stand in the way.
It is quite the task to get a read on Stanislas Wawrinka in 2014.
The Swiss star won the Australian Open but has been erratic at best all year. He put on an epic run in the Wimbledon bracket, but more recently was bounced in the quarterfinals of the Western & Southern Open by unseeded Julien Benneteau.
If Wawrinka is going to return to form, he better do it in a hurry considering his quarter includes Milos Raonic, a potential meetup with Murray and a trip to the semifinals might mean a dance with Djokovic.
With a 31-10 record to his name and 324 aces—ranking him No. 15 in that particular area—Wawrinka certainly has the firepower to gun through his path. Really, his erratic play this year perhaps means he is due for a strong performance.
While a name such as Federer or Djokovic will get most of the attention in the tournament, Wawrinka is one of the more important names to monitor thanks to his ability to string together great performances if he gets hot at the right time.